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On his return to agility...

Milo came to Heather Smith at the age of 21 months as a ‘high drive’ collie with no boundaries. He was considered out of control and aggressive. It's not an exaggeration to say that Agility was his saving grace. The past few years with him have been frustrating, rewarding, annoying, amusing, but never, ever boring. This is their true story - one not just of speed but courage in the face of adversity, commitment and perseverance. Thank you to their trainers Bobbie Boax and Morag Harris for their input.

Milo was taken to my local vets to be put to sleep as he was impossible to train. One of the nurses fostered him which is where I saw him six weeks later. I was looking for a dog I could introduce to agility. His potential was immediately obvious as he bounced around the furniture!

At home he was constantly on the go. On rare occasions, he would lie beside me for fuss and attention and but if the phone rang or the door bell should ring... He lacked socialisation and struggled with self-control so we got through lots of treats and cheese in a tube. Milo very quickly learnt the basic agility skills. He was all speed and enthusiasm and he just loved it.

Bobbie Boax, one of Milo's original trainers remembers the first time she saw him. She told me,  'He had agility dog written all over him. When he came to class, he was unruly, noisy but above all enthusiastic. Heather's patience with him has been amazing and I truly believe he could never have found a better home. It wasn't all about teaching him agility but teaching him how to cope with the other things in every day life.'

He went from strength to strength in his agility training unless there was a tunnel at the end of a contact and then it was a case of fingers crossed. He made good progress in Steeplechase achieving Senior level but his impulsive, enthusiastic approach made his contacts very unreliable so progress in Agility was slow. In the ring, he was either amazing or a disaster but it was never dull. He always had fun.

Looking for an answer...
In July 2016, Milo went slightly lame on his left hind leg. It was initially thought to be a cruciate problem. After extensive tests, x-rays etc., however, it was ascertained that this was not the case.

One of my trainers Bobbie remembers seeing us at a local show when I had brought Milo out for the afternoon. She told me later that she had to walk away or stand there and cry. All his spark had gone. He certainly was not the Milo we knew and loved.

For the next nine months I travelled miles, tried a wide variety of therapies and treatments and maxed out the insurance in the search of diagnosis, whilst he steadily became more lame and withdrawn. Eventually, a second round of x-rays showed the femur just above the knee was like honeycomb. This meant cancer and a full leg amputation was the only option.

The surgery was in late May and the histology report found cancer of the ‘peripheral nerve sheath’. It was a locally aggressive cancer, but not normally known to spread. With the full leg amputation there was a good chance it would not recur.

It is difficult to tell whether the cancer affected his behaviour as Milo was given pain relief from August 2016. A variety of medications were tried over the subsequent months. I think the side effects of these and increasing levels of pain contributed more to any behavioural changes. These changes were mainly to his temperament. He became very subdued, flat and quiet. His eyes were sad.

Throughout this long period of lameness, Milo enjoyed going into the agility training arena just to run around and play tuggy, avoiding all the equipment. He was allowed to potter around the arena for some safe off lead time. He certainly enjoyed this time.

Prior to his surgery, Milo was almost a tri-paw dog, bearing no weight on his left hind leg, so the rehab has been relatively quick and straightforward. A week after his amputation and the change in him was unbelievable. 

About a month later, he tried some gentle training, running through wings in big looping circles learning to adjust his weight and gain his balance. This has progressed through poles on the ground, at an angle and on to toy height and always tunnels – OMG he loves them! His eyes came alive and his whole demeanour changed. The culmination was his first run in Casual Steeplechase (NFC) at Teejay in mid-August 2017.

I think it is unlikely that we will change the height from Toy, but the A-frame at lower height is definitely beckoning...

Where do we go from here?
Since returning to agility, it is great to have the 'vintage' Milo back - fast, feisty and happy. Gone are the months of pain and medication which made him so flat and listless.

Several weeks on, Milo now needs to be challenged in training to ‘steady’ enough to master the balance and weight adjustments needed to include more advanced moves leading to more intricate courses. I also need to improve my timing, especially of verbal commands! For how long he will be able to do this is a big question but for now Milo has returned to his fun, bright loving self so long may it continue.

About the author...
Heather Smith has had dogs for nearly 30 years. Her first dog was a rescued farm collie pup that enjoyed long walks on Dartmoor. Since then, she's had five rescue dogs - all mongrels.

Her interest in agility began about 20 years ago but work and family commitments meant that she only started competing in 2012.

Photos of Milo at competitions: Yellow Hound Photography

First published:13 September 2017



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